LOU GEHRIG: The Lost Memoir by Alan D. Gaff (Simon & Schuster, 234 pp., $26)
In the pre-television and internet era, it’s hard to imagine the wattage a star player such as Lou Gehrig created or the emotion generated by his famous 1939 farewell speech at Yankee Stadium after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Early in his career, Gehrig was persuaded to write a series of newspaper essays about baseball life. And the pieces — all reproduced in "Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir" — mesh with the polite, reserved, determined and humble son of German immigrants superbly painted in Jonathan Eig’s definitive Gehrig biography “The Luckiest Man.”
Imagine essays today by a sports superstar absent any revelations to shock and ignite social media. Gehrig, however, finds goodness in all his teammates and competitors, even Ty Cobb.
Someday ALS, now referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease, will be conquered and that will revive debate about how much longer Gehrig might have played. He was 37 when he died and he was showing symptoms of the muscle affliction four years earlier.
Ever since he played, the narrative on Gehrig mostly follows his baseball achievements and his consecutive games record that stood for half a century. Gaff astutely crafts a biography to accompany Gehrig’s columns and focuses on details that parallel Gehrig’s generosity of spirit.
Perhaps most movingly, Gaff revisits the Yankee great’s post-baseball career. Despite the ravages of ALS, Gehrig worked for the parole board, counseling young men who had taken a wrong turn in life. “Even when he could barely sit in his office chair, he came to work everyday,” Gaff writes of Gehrig.
Hundreds of those young men filed past Gehrig’s coffin the day after he died.
One of Gehrig’s last visitors was Ed Barrow, Yankees’ general manager from 1921 to 1927. Gaff reports that by then Gehrig could not walk, dress or feed himself. Yet as Barrow left, Gehrig said “I’ll beat it, boss.”
What you would expect from a man who never gave up?